Did the English invent sparkling wine before the French monks of France’s Champagne region? Did Marilyn Monroe really drink a glass of bubbly every morning? And why is Queen Elizabeth II getting into the sparkling fizz biz? These are but a few of the conversations addressed in Sparkling: The Story of Champagne, a new documentary directed by Frank Mannion and debuting in August.
The film covers the history of the Champagne region, delving long before its wines sparkled—to the 5th century, when Champagne was a still red wine enjoyed at royal coronations. Mannion then fast-forwards to the 18th century to stir up a debate on sparkling wine’s “true” inventors: "It was the English aristocracy that helped make the sparkling drink fashionable, and that's one of the reasons why the English can make a claim to having 'discovered sparkling Champagne' before the 'Father of Champagne' Dom Pérignon," Mannion told Wine Spectator via email. "It is a colorful prism through which we can have a good-humored look at Anglo-French relations."
Mannion, who shot the film in France, England, New York and Los Angeles, says that he visited Champagne three times in order to gain the trust of the region's prestigious houses. Pol Roger (Winston Churchill's fav), Bollinger (007's fav) as well as Marilyn Monroe's go-to Piper-Heidsieck and Jay Z's Armand de Brignac make appearances in the film. Also appearing are actor Stephen Fry, Taittinger president Vitalie Taittinger and Champagne vet Bruno Paillard (maker of Mannion's favorite bubbly, Bruno Paillard N.P.C Nec Plus Ultra).
What else might audiences be surprised to learn? Maybe that Bollinger’s decades-long association with the James Bond movie franchise (the Champagne also appeared in author Ian Fleming’s 1956 Bond novel Diamonds Are Forever), was sealed with a handshake deal between the Champagne house and producer Cubby Broccoli—a far cry from the $45 million that Heineken is rumored to have paid for its appearance in Skyfall!
The film also looks at how climate change is altering the geography of sparkling wine, and how England has become a promising region for bubbly because of it. Mannion visits Taittinger's Domaine Evremond project in Kent and Queen Elizabeth's 7-acre vineyard in Windsor. But in the end, all eyes are on Champagne.
"Perhaps the film will act as escapism for audiences, to get that wanderlust to explore what it is about France we all love," Mannion said. "The film is intended to be a love letter to the Champagne region, and if it encourages some viewers to explore it for themselves, that will be a phenomenal achievement."
Sparkling: The Story of Champagne will debut in select theaters and on demand on Aug. 13, 2021.
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